By Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES – On February 20th., 2018, I wrote, “The future of Cuba lies in Asia,” with the sole intention of sharing my extraordinary experience with our readers, from where everyone can extract their own conclusions.
Anti-Cuba ideologues of all stripes outside of Cuba, who oppose any progress in Cuba no matter how small, coincided with extremists on the island who are likewise against the feeble socio-economic changes introduced by the government. They are ready to denounce the slightest mistake, negligence or crimes committed by the anemic private enterprises with threats, fines or shutting them down, for the same crimes in vastly greater scope committed with impunity by the government run enterprises.
Many friends were alarmed by the barrage of heavy artillery fire coming my way; who reminded me about the risks and negative effect it could have on my future travels to Cuba, like what happened to journalist Pedro Gonzalez Munne, who has been barred from visiting Cuba, although he dedicated much of his professional life to promote better relations between the United States and Cuba at his personal risk in Miami.
Interestingly enough, the same words and views expressed in my article, can be found profusely across the front pages of Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Cubadebate without reproach or condemnation from any of those who were prepared to crucify an easy prey.
What really matters to me, is to share ideas and my limited knowledge with the Cuban people while hoping to improve their lot, reduce their sufferings and to enable the country to continue its solidarity with others in need.
Since the Special Period in the 1990’s, Cuba has endured a critical financial down turn, which has reversed most of the nation’s gains, demoralized its workforce, corrupted society, vulgarized the population, questioned the value of education, reduced child birth, stimulated migration with the loss of thousands of young, educated men and women, encouraged theft, violence and left a vulnerable aging society without resources and care.
Viet Nam went through a greater socio-political upheaval following the collectivization in 1975, which brought hunger, despair and millions of men, women and children left the country by air, land and sea. In 1986, the Party Congress introduced Doi Moi or Renovation, which eliminated the government involvement in non-basic industrial, agricultural and other sectors, liberating the human forces and encouraging the development of small and medium businesses.
Out of the ashes and the devastation left by the brutal war with the United States, Viet Nam evolved into a model agricultural, industrial and prosperous society, which reduced poverty and unemployment from 70 to 10% in less than 35 years. It is the world’s second largest producer of rice, coffee, flowers and others are in the pipeline, with a burgeoning construction, industrial, shipping, fishing and personal goods industry. Meanwhile, Cuba has obstinately persisted with its old socio-economic model that even Fidel declared was not working anymore.
The recent presence of Nguyen Phu Trong, secretary general of the Communist Party of Viet Nam in Cuba, turned out to be an example of brotherhood, solidarity and hopes of a bright future, by condoning Cuba’s debt and by signing important agreements in agriculture, construction, environment, science and others.
But the urgent and intractable social ills that afflicts Cuba for decades, demand that the nation go faster and conclude deeper agreements than erasing debts, hand-outs and accepting donations, which are bound to re-emerge, if Cuba does not make decisive, deep structural changes as those taken by Viet Nam in 1986.
Building a five star hotel and managing another, will not make a dent in Cuba’s crumbling economy and its people. Albeit the immense human development that Viet Nam has achieved in 35 years, it still has 10 million people living under the poverty line and Cuba has millions of acres of follow lands. Why not consider instead importing hundreds of thousands of tons of rice from thousands of kilometers away, offering Vietnamese the opportunity to lease lands in Cuba and bring this yearly rice flotilla to an end.
The same can be said about Haiti and other English Speaking Caribbean islands whose tears, sweat and blood of its immigrant community, turned Cuba into the largest sugar producer in the world and an important coffee, cacao and coconut producer at the turn of the past century. Today they are banned from immigrating to Cuba, which can only be explained by xenophobia or prejudice.
I was powerfully impressed by the mindset of the Vietnamese people, who fought decades against brutal wars of conquest by China, Japan, France and the United States, but while remembering these criminal acts, they refuse to be weighted and trapped in the past, preferring to focus their efforts on their brilliant future.
Here too, Cuba can learn from Viet Nam to overcome petty attitudes and vindictiveness such as prohibiting 100,000 Cuban expatriates from visiting their homeland, applying a surcharge on Cuban Americans Visas, Passports and Travel instead of devising events as Viet Nam, that encourage their return and investment.
The Cuban government is absorbed with menial monetary activities such as penalizing the entire population with at least a 150% surcharge on everything sold in “Hard Currency”, while ignoring the Big Picture of promoting the Mariel Special Zone as America’s huge distribution centers for e-commerce giants Ali Baba, Tencent, IKEA, JC.COM, which would boost the shipping business and require the employment of tens of thousands of workers.
The growth of Cuba tourism, has been a boom for foreign air carriers, from which the dying Cubana de Aviacion receives less than 1%. Likewise, the Caribbean and Central America are in dire need of improved air and sea connections, for which Cuba could explore creating a joint venture with, for example, Singapore Airlines, the best in the business and enabling it to absorb millions of tourists coming to Cuba and by offering the Caribbean the quality service it deserves.
If at this life and death juncture, the Cuban government does not introduce its own Doi Moi, they may live to regret it.